With Week 1 of the NFL season in the rear-view mirror, the sprint has concluded. It was a sprint that featured teams looking to get off to good starts. They were 16-16 in that area.
This upcoming week of NFL action is the start of a marathon. What happens from here on out will define success and/or failure for the remainder of the season.
It’s in this that we must look at the top matchups heading into the second week of the season.
Drew Brees and Eli Manning take on one another in a rematch of last year’s high-scoring affair. Can the former help his New Orleans Saints team avoid a 0-2 start to the season?
Out west, the defending champion Denver Broncos will look to continue their winning ways against an Indianapolis Colts squad with a battered offensive line. Can Denver impose its will here?
These are among the top-10 individual matchups heading into Week 2 of the NFL season.
1. Drew Brees vs Eli Manning
The last time these two quarterbacks played, the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants combined for 101 points and 1,024 total yards of offense. It really was a sight to behold.
No, this wasn’t good football. It was entertaining, but each defense was about as embarrassing as it gets.
Last time the Saints-Giants played, November of 2015 pic.twitter.com/a2Hag4pghJ
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) September 13, 2016
Those are Arena Football League numbers right there. Brees tied the single-game record with seven touchdowns. Manning bested his career mark for touchdowns in a single game.
That doesn’t begin to tell us the entire story. Of the seven fourth quarter possessions in New Orleans’ 52-49 win, four resulted in touchdowns. All said, the two teams combined for over 300 yards in that final stanza.
Now, heading into Week 2, not a whole lot has changed for either team. Sure New York held rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys to 19 points in the season opener. But that has to be seen as a mirage more than anything else.
From a Saints perspective, last week’s defensive performance was about as bad as it gets. Dennis Allen’s unit allowed the Oakland Raiders to put up 210 yards on just 17 plays in the fourth quarter, enabling Oakland to pull off the road comeback.
It’s definitely going to be interesting to see how this one plays out. We wouldn’t be too surprised if it ended up being the highest-scoring game of the week.
2. Amari Cooper vs Desmond Trufant
Cooper followed up a tremendous rookie season by picking up where he left off in Week 1. The former first-round pick caught six passes for 137 yards in Oakland’s comeback win over the Saints.
Unfortunately for Cooper and the Raiders, Trufant is better than anyone New Orleans could even think about throwing out there.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 11, 2016
Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans did put up a touchdown in the game, but it did not come against Trufant. Instead, the Falcons’ top defensive player held Evans to just three receptions when the two were matched up against one another.
This will be the game within the game. Can Cooper find a way to provide Derek Carr with that consistent target against one of the top cover guys in the NFL? If so, Oakland could very well start the season 2-0.
3. Mike Evans vs Patrick Peterson
We like what Evans provided then rookie Jameis Winston in the passing game last season. Tampa Bay’s top receiver hauled in 74 catches for 1,206 yards. Though, he only caught 50 percent of the passes thrown his way and tallied an absurdly low 4.1 percent touchdown rate.
That’s going to have to change in order for the Buccaneers to take the next step towards playoff contention. It did to an extent in a Week 1 win over Atlanta. Evans caught five of the seven passes thrown his way for 99 yards and a score.
— Tim England (@tengland150) September 12, 2016
On the other hand, Peterson absolutely dominated in coverage against the New England Patriots on Sunday night. By dominate, we mean that he legitimately didn’t allow anything of substance to be completed his way.
Patrick Peterson played 37 snaps in coverage, allowed a mere 0.35 yards per coverage snap and didn’t allow a single yard after contact. @PFF
— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) September 12, 2016
This comes on the heels of Peterson himself putting up a bounce-back campaign en route to earning an All Pro nod last season.
With Arizona facing the potential of starting 0-2, it is going to need the team’s stars to step up. That starts with Peterson on the defensive side of the ball.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cincinnati Bengals
Where to start here? This is no longer just a rivalry. It’s two teams that absolutely hate one another, both on and off the field.
The last time Pittsburgh and Cincinnati took on one another it was about as ugly of a scene as we’ve witnessed in NFL history. It took place during the wild card round of the playoffs this past January. Two division rivals matching up in Cincinnati for an opportunity to advance to the next round.
In a tightly-contested affair, it was the inability of Cincinnati’s defenders to maintain their pose that cost the Bengals the game. Personal foul penalties on both Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones pretty much handed Pittsburgh the game-winning field goal (more on that here).
The scene was so bad that Bengals’ fans decided it made sense to throw stuff at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger while he was being carted off the field with an injury (watch here).
All the talking that’s taken place since this game, and it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see tempers flair up in Pittsburgh once again this upcoming weekend. Let’s just hope it is more about the game itself than pure on-field idiocy.
5. DeAndre Hopkins vs Marcus Peters
For the third time since Peters entered the NFL just last season, these two players will be matched up against one another.
And despite Hopkins’ tremendous 2015 statistical season, he was held in check by the Kansas City Chiefs’ top corner in the playoffs this past January.
After Hopkins tallied nine receptions for 98 yards and two scores against a player in Peters that was making his regular season debut, the defensive back stepped up in the postseason.
He held the Texans’ star receiver to just six receptions for 69 yards on 11 targets en route to helping Kansas City whitewash Houston by the score of 30-0.
Things are just a tad bit different heading into Week 2. First off, Houston has upgraded its passing situation surrounding Hopkins a great deal.
It signed Brock Osweiler to a massive free-agent contract and selected former Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller in the first round of this year’s draft.
With a much better supporting cast around him, Hopkins isn’t being tasked with doing as much. That was evident in Houston’s win over the Chicago Bears this past Sunday. Fuller actually tallied more targets and receiving yards than his veteran counterpart.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Texans. It’s also going to force opposing defenses from constantly sending double teams Hopkins’ way.
All this will likely lead to a ton of one-on-one situations between Hopkins and Peters come Sunday. That’s definitely going to be intriguing to watch with these two playoff contenders doing battle early in the season.
6. Indianapolis Colts offensive line vs Denver Broncos pass rush
Here are all of the hits Cam Newton suffered to his head last night. (via Reddit) pic.twitter.com/cpRcdUOWso
— FOX Sports Radio (@FoxSportsRadio) September 9, 2016
The Colts’ offensive line is in complete shambles right now. Andrew Luck might have only been sacked twice in Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions. He was, however, hit five times and pressured on over 20 percent of his drop backs. That’s not good for anyone involved.
Now add in the season-ending ACL injury to starting guard Jack Mewhort, and these issues are going to be magnified even further.
More so than their own internal issues along the offensive line, Indy must now take on a Denver Broncos defense that’s in the headlines after treating Cam Newton like a rag doll (legal or not) last Thursday.
Newton was sacked three times, hit eight times and pressured over a quarter of the time he dropped back to pass.
With Andrew Luck still sporting a shoulder injury and returning from his injury-plagued 2015 campaign, one has to wonder if he’s going to be up for what promises to be a pounding come Sunday.
We also want to see exactly how the officials call this game. They were missing in action last week in Denver, which ultimately led to multiple investigations into the matter (more on that here).
This is a major story when it comes to the NFL as a whole, and it’s now a major matchup within the broader construct of the game.
7. Bryan Bulaga vs Danielle Hunter
Hunter was an absolute monster for the Minnesota Vikings last week. The 21-year-old defensive lineman recorded an fumble recovery for a touchdown, a sack and multiple quarterback pressures (watch some highlights here).
On the other hand, Green Bay’s offensive line was tremendous against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers was sacked just once and hit a total of three times in the win.
Hunter is going to have to put pressure on Rodgers in order for Minnesota to slow down Green Bay’s passing attack. Should that happen, the Vikings could get off to a surprising 2-0 start.
8. Eric Fisher vs J.J. Watt
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 12, 2016
This would normally be seen as a mismatch heavily slanted in Watt’s favor. Though, Fisher, a former No. 1 overall pick of the Chiefs, was splendid in the team’s season-opening win over San Diego.
The left tackle allowed three total quarterback hurries in 71 snaps against the Chargers — a performance that might very well have been the best of his career.
It’s going to be a vastly different monster going up against the league’s best defensive player. Though, we must note that Watt was held to just one tackle and zero sacks in Houston’s wild card loss to Kansas City last January. It’s the same numbers he put up last week after returning from off-season back surgery.
Here’s two teams that will likely be battling for playoff positioning late into the season. An early-season win would be huge for either one of them. It’s in this that one individual matchup may help dictate the outcome.
9. San Francisco 49ers offensive line vs Carolina Panthers defensive line
Key stat: Blaine Gabbert was sacked 0 times against the Rams. This 49ers offensive line is the real deal
— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) September 13, 2016
San Francisco’s offensive line was absolutely dominant against a darn good Los Angeles Rams front four during Monday’s 28-0 win. Blaine Gabbert was hit a grand total of one time as the Rams failed to record a single sack in the process.
It wasn’t just the outside pass protection that did San Francisco favors here. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was held to three tackles and just one quarterback pressure on the evening. Tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown also performed at a high level, allowing a combined two quarterback pressures.
The 49ers are going to have to keep this up against a stout Carolina defensive line that recorded two sacks and a half dozen quarterback hits last Thursday. Should that happen, San Francisco might be able to shock the world in Charlotte come Sunday.
10. Dez Bryant vs Josh Norman
If Norman is actually going to line up against Bryant for the majority of this game, we might actually have a solid matchup on our hands.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is too keen on his high-priced free agent tailing the other team’s top receiver.
When asked if Norman will be moved around to mirror the other team’s top receiver, Gruden didn’t seem too committal.
“It could be. The issue is you like to not show your hand in man-to-man all the time and so every time he travels, it’s man-to-man. Then you have issues with pick plays and all that stuff,” the head coach said Tuesday, via Pro Football Talk. “That’s something that we can look at, but we still feel like Breeland can cover a lot of people in the league, man. He just had a couple rough plays and a couple unbelievable throws and catches by Ben (Roethlisberger) and Antonio (Brown), man. Hats off to them.”
There’s definitely something going on behind the scenes here. Norman did not follow Antonio Brown around the field in Washington’s blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.
.@AntonioBrown84 CANNOT be stopped.
— NFL (@NFL) September 13, 2016
Brown lined up against Bashaud Breeland on half the snaps, torching Washington’s other starting corner to the tune of eight catches for 113 yards on nine targets. When Brown was lined up against Norman, he caught zero of the two passes thrown his way.
We have no idea what the plan is here for Washington, but the team needs to scheme better moving forward.
That could very well include lining Norman up against Cowboys No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant. Interestingly, Bryant himself struggled finding a rhythm with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott on Sunday, catching just one of the five passes thrown his way for eight yards.